Category Archives: Geology

Fun Fact Friday, August 5, 2022: Exfoliation

It’s #FunFactFriday

Ok, be honest. What comes to mind when I write the word “exfoliation?” To me, a picture of dry, flaky skin first comes to mind. However, exfoliation has a geological context to it, too. It’s a weathering process and one of the best places to see this process is along Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park.

As you drive that road, take a look at the granite hills and domes all around you. Notice that interesting sort of “onion peel” effect on the rock layers? That’s exfoliation! It’s a type of weathering and is common in granites.

You see, granite formed beneath the earth’s surface, under immense pressure. So, when the surface sediments and rocks – collectively termed as overburden – covering that granite are eroded or removed and that granite is exposed, the pressure beneath which the granite lay is gone and the granite begins to expand, forming all sorts of fractures (joints). Weathering (like frost heaving) causes plates, or flakes of rock to strip away the surface rock much like onion skin peels away from the onion.

And now you know.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Fun Fact Friday, August 5, 2022: Exfoliation

Filed under Fun Fact Friday, Geology, National Parks, Photography, Yosemite National Park

One Heck Of A Pothole!

It’s Trivia Tuesday! So, what are you looking at in this image, you may be asking yourself. You see a teeny white SUV to the upper left of this image, some golden grass and scrubby sagebrush. You see a large hole in the center and center-left of the image. Well, that’s a pothole you are looking at. Yes, a pothole – like the ones your vehicle drives over and it doesn’t get fixed until some member of the city council or their relative damages their car driving over it and they demand it gets fixed. Only this pothole was created by something entirely different, and is out in the middle of Drumheller Channels National Natural Landmark, a part of the Channeled Scablands landscape seen along the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail in Eastern Washington state.

Ever heard of a “kolk”? Tens of thousands of years ago, colossal floodwaters surged through the area, higher than that white SUV, higher than any of the buttes you see in the image. Those waters were so strong and fast that they created corkscrew vortices called kolks (whirlpools) within the water. Those kolks drilled down into the ground and eroded and carried away boulders and soils to other destinations, leaving scraped and scoured landscape with these large potholes. And they are large. If you were to hike within the landscape of Drumheller Channels (much of which is located within the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge), you’d see dry potholes and water-filled potholes.

I’m writing a series of photo columns about the Channeled Scablands for the National Parks Traveler. Part 1 has already been published. Parts 2 and 3 are going to be published in later months.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on One Heck Of A Pothole!

Filed under Channeled Scablands, Drumheller Channels National Natural Landmark, Eastern Washington, Geology, Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, National Parks, Travel, Trivia Tuesday, Washington State

Photography In The National Parks: Exploration Along The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail

Dry Falls Vista

The National Parks Traveler has published my latest photo column. This month, it’s all about my day trip to Eastern Washington’s Dry Falls and Channeled Scablands landscape along the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.

To read the article, click on the image above.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Photography In The National Parks: Exploration Along The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail

Filed under Eastern Washington, Geology, Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, National Parks Traveler, Photography, Travel, Washington State

Science In Yellowstone National Park

Colloidal Pool in Porcelain Basin was one of the hydrothermal features studied in the YVO 2021 annual report, Yellowstone National Park / photo by Rebecca Latson

Photography articles are not the only things about which I write for the National Parks Traveler. I also pen quizzes, park checklists, and itineraries, to name a few other pieces I contribute. Last week, you might have read a piece I wrote synopsizing a technical article about how scientists are running simulation scenarios for lahars (volcanic mudflows) that might occur due to an avalanche on Mount Rainier.

Today, the National Parks Traveler has published another article I’ve written: a synopsis of the 2021 annual report produced by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) of scientific research conducted over 2021 in Yellowstone National Park and some conclusions reached. It was a cool annual report to read and fun to condense into an article for the Traveler.

If you are interested in finding out what went on in Yellowstone National Park in 2021, and want to download the full 2021 YVO annual report, click on the image above.

Comments Off on Science In Yellowstone National Park

Filed under Geology, National Parks, National Parks Traveler, Yellowstone National Park

Lahars (Mudflows) Can’t Be Predicted, But They Can Be Simulated

A View Of Mount Rainier From Seattle’s Elliott Bay

Lahars (mudflows) can’t be predicted but they can be simulated using a special computer application. My latest contribution to the National Parks Traveler is all about this subject, so check out the article by clicking on the image above.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Lahars (Mudflows) Can’t Be Predicted, But They Can Be Simulated

Filed under Geology, Mount Rainier National Park, National Parks, National Parks Traveler

Red Spouter Is A Great Example Of Cool Geology

Red Spouter fumerole at Fountain Paint Pots, Yellowstone National Park during summer 2018
A close-up view of Red Spouter as a fumerole during summer 2018
Red Spouter as a hot spring (or really wet mud pot – take your pick) in the winter (February) of 2022

Geology is such a cool science. I have degrees in geology (which meant, at the time, diddly squat in terms of getting a job, but it was a cool branch of science to study, anyway). Yellowstone National Park is a great place to see geology, past and present. Take Red Spouter, for example.

Before August 1959, Red Spouter did not even exist. In its place was a small grassy hill in the Fountain Paint Pots area. Then, on August 17, 1959, the Hebgen Lake earthquake occurred about 25 miles northwest of Fountain Paint Pots with a magnitude of 7.3. It was quite a shaker and “rippled through Yellowstone,” creating Red Spouter.

The interesting thing about Red Spouter is, depending upon the season, it can be a hot spring, a mudpot, or a fumerole. Back in the summer of 2018, as I was moving from TX to central WA, I stopped for a brief visit to Yellowstone. At the time I explored the Fountain Paint Pots area, Red Spouter was a fumerole (steam vent). During my recent February 2022 visit, I toured the same area while on a snowcoach trip, and Red Spouter was a splashing, muddy red, hot spring (well, maybe you’d call it a mud pot, although it seemed really watery to me).

Why is this? Well, it all depends upon the water table just beneath the surface. If the water table is high, like when snow melts and in the spring, then it’s either a splashing hot spring or a bubbling mudpot. If the water table is low, which it can be during the height of a dry summer (and it’s pretty dry out in Yellowstone, anyway), then Red Spouter is a steam vent.

Geology is cool, and it’s even cooler when you can get nicely-composed photos of that geology, right?

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Red Spouter Is A Great Example Of Cool Geology

Filed under Geology, National Parks, Photography, Yellowstone National Park

Alien Crash Site? Or Just A Little Hot Spring At Upper Geyser Basin?

This is just a close shot of a very small hot spring (maybe 3 feet in diameter, including the melted ground around it) I saw while walking on the boardwalks at Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park one freezing February morning. It was a pretty thing, all bright and distinct against the white snow, and it reminded me of a favorite old 1950’s sci fi movie I watch all the time on my iPad when traveling (I listen to movies while editing photos). Anybody ever seen “The Thing From Another World?” Not the one with Kurt Russell, but the 1951 black-and-white version? To me, that’s a classic. The timing and overlapping of the dialog, the whole black-and-white scenario. I love it. Oh, the special effects are laughable, but I still like it way better than the 1982 film. Maybe it’s an age thing, but to me, the old movies are classics and always will be.

Anyway, where is this going, you may ask? Well, in the 1951 version, at one point, the plane with the scientists and the Airforce personnel are flying over the alien’s frozen-over crash spot, and it looks exactly like this little hot spring’s configuration right here. As a matter of fact, when I spotted this thermal spring, it was the first thing that popped into my head.

So, sometimes, you may photograph the things you see because they remind you of something else, right?

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Alien Crash Site? Or Just A Little Hot Spring At Upper Geyser Basin?

Filed under Geology, National Parks, Photography, Yellowstone National Park

Early Morning At Roaring Mountain

An early autumn morning listening to the low hiss of Roaring Mountain fumeroles, Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

This shot was captured on my last day in the park. Actually, I was heading out and back to Bozeman to meet up with some friends, but I was loath to leave the park. I could have stayed there for another week and been happy.

Roaring Mountain doesn’t really roar. Instead, it has a low hiss that is sometimes difficult to hear – especially as cars passed by on the road behind me. All those spots where you see steam issuing forth are from fumeroles – openings that emit steam and other gases.

If you ever visit this national park, take a moment to fathom that you are standing upon a volcanically active (hydrothermally active) landscape. The crust is not quite as thick as you think it might be, which is why it’s good to obey the signs that say “Stay On Trail.”

2022 marks Yellowstone National Park’s 150th birthday. I’m going to try and be there at some point in time to celebrate that year with the park.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Early Morning At Roaring Mountain

Filed under Geology, National Parks, Photography, Travel, Travel and Photography, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Searching For Glaciers In The National Park System

Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park, Canada

A few weeks ago, my editor asked me to write an article about being able to see glaciers in national parks. So, I did. It’s been published in today’s edition of the National Parks Traveler. Click on the image to read the article.

As for the image, this is one of the first things you see when you cross the border from Banff National Park into Jasper National Park. You can even buy a ticket to go on a sort of bus kitted out with big honkin’ snow tires and ride out to, and walk onto, the glacier. My parents did it decades ago, and I wish I would have done the same thing, in retrospect. Maybe someday, when Canada lets us back in, I’ll take a little drive back into Jasper National Park and walk on that glacier.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Searching For Glaciers In The National Park System

Filed under Geology, glaciers, National Parks, National Parks Traveler, Photography, Travel

Fun Fact Friday: Big Bend Geology

It’s #FunFactFriday so I thought I’d write about the geology seen in Big Bend National Park (Texas). The Chisos Mountains (part of which you see in the image above) are volcanic in origin. One of those volcanic things you’ll see while driving the road through the park are intrusive dikes. Igneous means the rock is volcanic in origin. Dikes are igneous, and they are called “intrusive” because the magma intrudes upon and into the existing rock layers above it. You can see a long stretch of dikes exposed and sticking up out of the ground in this shot. The rocks around the dikes eroded away, leaving those flat-looking walls of rock, sort of like a zig-zaggy-edged rock fence running over the hillsides and up into the mountain flanks.

I’m looking through past Big Bend (as well as other parks) images to see if there are shots I have not edited, or – at the time – didn’t do as good a job of editing. I honestly can’t remember if I ever posted this image or not, back in 2013 (can it be 7 years ago??) captured during my December visit to this national park in southwest Texas. It was my first (out of four) trips there.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

Comments Off on Fun Fact Friday: Big Bend Geology

Filed under Big Bend National Park, Fun Fact Friday, Geology, National Parks, Photography, Texas, Travel